Worldbuilding mistakes (at least the big ones) are easy to notice, and they end up being the one thing that the audience remember about your story.
Creating an entire city, a nation, a planet, or even an entire universe from scratch can be fun, but doing it the wrong way can also kill your credibility as a writer.
Have you ever watched a scene in a movie where two characters who are not supposed to meet “coincidentally” bump into each other? And I bet you thought: “That is way too convenient”. That is called a contrived coincidence.
The wife that “coincidentally” has to stop for gas and sees her husband kissing his lover at the gas station.
A cop on vacation who, while looking for the bar’s bathroom, “by chance” witnesses the kidnapping of the girl who used to be his high school crush by the hands of his mortal enemy.
The brave hero who travels to a different continent in search of the legendary hermit and while hunting “happens to find” the cave where he lives.
All those things are contrived coincidences. An event that has a 1 in a million chances of happening, and “coincidentally” has a crucial role in the narrative.
This kind of events are engineered by the writer to move the plot forward or create conflict, the convenience of the event is never addressed or explained.
In “The Force Awakens” most of the characters are actively looking for Luke Skywalker, and have a map that can take them to the planet where he lives.
Rey is actively looking for Skywalker and following the instructions on the map, so it’s no surprise that she manages to find him.
If, on the other hand, she had just decided to land on a random planet to buy fuel and supplies and by chance saw Luke’s figure on a hill, that would have been a contrived coincidence.
The crimes of Grindelwald
Let me get this out of the way immediately: this movie has a lot of problems, coincidences are just the tip of the iceberg.
Just by looking at the premise, you can tell that this movie was built on shaky grounds. In the first act, the movie repeats over and over that Credence will be an important element in the war between Grindelwald and the Ministry, so everybody should be looking for Credence.
Premise: “Everybody is in Paris looking for Credence”
Reality: “Everybody is in Paris but they’re all doing something else”
Grindelwald himself goes to Paris to recruit Credence and then… he forgets about it and makes a rally instead.
Newt is sent to Paris by Dumbledore to look for Credence and then… he ends up looking for Tina instead.
Leta, Theseus, and the other Aurors get to the point of blackmailing Newt in order to find Credence and… they go to Hogwarts instead.
Yusuf Kama seems to be the only character that actually makes an effort to pursue his goal but… he’s just terrible at it.
The story that this movie is trying to tell has too many problems and, for this reason, contrived coincidences are the only way to move the plot forward.
Let’s see with a few examples when those coincidences happen and how they become worldbuilding mistakes.
1 – Paris is a big city… or is it?
The first major mistake that this movie makes is to squeeze the big city of Paris into a handful of locations.
In another blog post, I’ve talked about the first Fantastic Beasts movie and how it uses the “umbrella technique” effectively to showcase its story world without making it too chaotic. Every location has a purpose in the story and the characters decide to go there rather than simply “happen to be there”.
The crimes of Grindelwald uses the umbrella technique as well, but in the wrong way. Here, the characters meet each other by coincidence and move from point A to point B without a real motivation to do so.
Take for example the scene where Queenie is approached by one of Grindelwald’s closest followers.
She didn’t come to Paris to look for Grindelwald and yet, she manages to find his hideout and even gets invited in! Either she is a super spy or those other Aurors who are looking for him are complete morons.
Not only that, while Queenie is approached by Grindelwald’s secretary, she actually happens to be just around the corner from Newt and Kowalski, who are in turn a few blocks away from Tina and Kama.
What a small world this is.
2 – The “Find my Tina” spell
Upon arriving in the “big city” of Paris, Newt decides to use a spell with vague abilities that can locate Tina’s movements.
The spell Newt uses seems to have the ability to reveal what happened the night before in that exact spot.
A couple of questions:
How does he know that Tina was in that area the night before?
If she hadn’t been there would he have repeated the same spell at every corner?
How come the spell showed exactly what they needed to see and not the whole circus show that preceded it?
I know that it’s petty and annoying to point out every single detail, but this is what happens when too many coincidences are amassed together.
Here’s the thing: after years and years of Harry Potter movies filled with really specific rules and uses for spells, seeing that a guy can solve his problems just by sprinkling some golden dust on the ground seems kind of anticlimactic.
Just compare some of the spells we already know about with this new one:
Wingardium Leviosa = makes an object levitate
Expelliarmus = disarm an opponent
Appare Vestigium = finds Tina and tells you what she’s been doing lately
Any story, no matter if it’s set in a different universe, a parallel one or even our own, it always needs to be consistent with its internal logic.
The rule here is that each spell has a specific function and specific limitations. Appare Vestigium, a spell that (conveniently) makes Newt’s storyline move forward, doesn’t follow this rule.
The Crimes of Grindelwald is filled with cringy dialogue and worldbuilding mistakes, but I wanted to highlight those two moments because they are a classic example of errors that make it impossible for the audience to suspend disbelief.
And a story that is not credible enough is a story that the audience doesn’t really care about.